If my house was on fire the first thing I’d try to save — after my kids, obviously — would be my record collection. But then I’d have to dash back into the burning house to get my books because losing those would be almost as traumatic.
I’ve been buying books (mostly fiction) for almost as long as I’ve been buying records, starting in my early teens when a paperback cost 50p which was about the same price as a single. Both were cheap entry points into obsessions that have since consumed vast chunks of my time and wages, and I’ve spent (not wasted!) as much of my life browsing in book shops as I have record shops — I could soak up the ambience of those two places all day.
My literary preferences have evolved and changed in much the same way as my musical tastes too. I read a lot of science fiction when I was a teen into the cosmic Prog-Pop of ELO, as a moody/arty lad in my twenties I favoured “difficult” authors like William Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon whose linguistic envelope-pushing and edgy subjects were the literary equivalent of post-punk. Then there was the spiky misanthropy of early Martin Amis which every young man goes through a phase of, like being a Mod or a Punk. Now I’m old and less impressed by wordy fireworks I’d rather sink into the clean, unfussy prose of a Evelyn Waugh or Raymond Chandler. But I still love discovering new writers as much as new bands, like Jennifer Egan whose novel A Visit From The Goon Squad thrilled me as much last year as hearing Frank Ocean’s album.
Not surprisingly I have the same love of books as fetishistic objects that I have for records. It’s mostly paperbacks that I get all drooly over, from a design point of view I think they’re just perfect little things and prefer their more accessible, egalitarian nature and lack of preciousness. While a hardback is like a heavyweight concept album with a gatefold sleeve, a paperback is still like a pop single to me (though not as cheap anymore), a potential revolution of the mind in a portable package and I’m rarely more content than when I’m sitting on the bus lost in a great paperback. Then I look around me and see everyone staring at their iPhones and I die a little inside.
Download: Read It In Books – Echo & The Bunnymen (mp3)